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 Post subject: Designers Blog #1: Combat Resolution in the Eldritch System
PostPosted: Sat Jan 05, 2008 10:45 pm 
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"Combat
Resolution in the Eldritch Role-Playing System."
By Dan Cross

Why another Fantasy RPG?

As a seasoned Game Master, you might scoff at the notion of yet another fantasy role-playing system (FRPG). Who needs another “elves, dwarves, and dragons” game, when so many continue to utilize tired tropes and game mechanics? I feel your pain; I felt the same way. And yet I was excited when my friend Randall Petras offered to collaborate on a new epic fantasy game. Like most aficionados of tabletop gaming, we had developed our own preferences over the years, and had a very good idea of how we felt an epic fantasy RPG should be designed. The trick was creating a game that translates our preferences into an effective theme and style, while differentiating itself from the competition. There is no guarantee that anybody's vision will be particularly marketable in our small industry. But after the arduous journey of almost seven years in design and playtest, we think we created something special. And Goodman Games ultimately agreed; there is indeed room for another iteration of the epic fantasy game.

Combat in ERP

In this forum I will explain our design choices in several installments, each entry focusing on a different aspect of play; comments or questions are welcome. In this first installment I’ll discuss combat, and the next entry will be about character and NPC creation, for both player and GM options.

First, like many designers, we started off by determining what we’d change about the most popular FRPGs. This process helped define some of the design goals of Eldritch Role Playing (ERP). One important item on the list was combat. We wanted to get away from the “hit or miss” combat systems, whether of D20 or many other games, including the single AC score, the "to-hit" roll, and how damage is handled.

Experienced GMs can often use hitpoints to represent many factors, including skill, luck, defensive weaponry techniques, evasive maneuvering, etc. They can describe a "hit" by the dice as a "miss" (i.e., the target dodges), and that a miss by the dice can be described as a "hit" (the attack struck armor to no effect).

For some players, the language gets confusing. If a player scores a "hit" with a "critical strike", how can the GM describe the target jumping out of the way of the strike? The answer may be the target survives by agility and speed, or has enough hitpoints to absorb the damage without any apparent harm. In almost all RPGs, making an attack roll only determines "potential-harm", and the dice determine levels of threat more often than actual damage. This reflects a problem with the standard "to-hit" roll procedure—though the GM may describe a miss by the dice as hitting the target's armor, or as a total failure, the net effect is players often feeling frustrated with the dice.

Games systems evolved in several ways in response to this problem. One type would lean toward the complex, “rules-heavy”, and micromanage the battles, down to the smallest detail. Sometimes the design was "rules-light", placing greater interpretive power into the hands of the GM, sometimes focusing on non-violent narrative. Each of these approaches has their strengths and weaknesses. We took the middle ground. Whether a player or GM, you won’t wrangle with complex mechanics. However, we don’t under-emphasize the table-top game aspect of ERP. No, while we avoid any the need of miniatures, the game happily incorporates dice and strategy, whether in character development, combat, or story events.

So how does combat work in ERP? First, one does not make an “attack roll”, but rather determines Potential Harm, generating threat points applied toward the target's hitpoints, which may be divided into a few logical categories of defense. Threat points are descriptively interpreted. For example, a warrior rolls 2D6 to attack and rolls a 6. His opponent decides to parry, which reduces the respective "defense pool" (a category of hitpoints) score by 6 points. Should the attacker exceed the opponent's chosen defense score, then other considerations, like armor (actual damage reduction) or overall toughness come into play. The system promotes easy visualization of the action. Just remember three steps in combat: Attacker rolls for Potential Harm, opponent chooses defense type; any exceeding "threat points" affect armor (the effectiveness of which is random), or the body. And although there are modifiers based on weapon type or spells, the number of modifiers that stack remain easy to manage.

For some fun contrast, Bryan Mitchell of Enworld submitted to me the potential complexity of actions in D20, especially in high level adventures:
Let's take a level 8 paladin about to charge and smite an enemy. You've cast divine sacrifice (complete divine, and have sacrificed 10 hp), have bless cast on you, and have used your divine might feat (complete warrior). You're also going to power attack with a two-handed weapon at -4. Adding up your attack roll would look something like this: +8 bab - 4 power attack + 4 strength + 1 weapon focus + 1 bless + 2 charging + 4 smite evil + 2 magical weapon = +18. Your damage like so= 2d6 base greatsword + 5d6 divine sacrifice + 6 1 1/2 str + 8 smite evil + 4 divine might + 2 magical weapon +8 power attack (x2 subtracted bonus) = 2d6+28 plus 5d6. And don't forget your AC drops by -2 for charging.

For example, imagine a ERP warrior by the name of Theo. Both his general melee ability and specialization in bludgeons is represented by a 1D6, so he rolls 2D6 when determining Potential-Harm against a single foe. He may split his dice to attack two opponents, add another die based on weapon mastery (if possessed), or may gain a bonus from magic or spells, but the system never get too heavy on modifiers. Modifiers can indeed stack up in ERP, but are usually circumstantial, or the result of temporary effects, so keeping notes on various character powers requires little bookkeeping. But before one can totally appreciate the combat system of ERP I believe it’s necessary to understand character, NPC and monster creation, which is arguably the most important aspect of the game, for it out of these elements that all else becomes derived...

And that will be the next entry subject. Farewell until next installment…


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 06, 2008 8:44 am 
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That sounds pretty close to genius. I'm sold already.

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PostPosted: Sun Jan 06, 2008 1:10 pm 
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This summary sounds unbelivably great. I can already see it playing out in my head. I can only hope that in practice this is actually how it works. Summaries sometimes sound great, but then once you actually use a system in tends to work differently then described. But like I said this sounds really great.

I have been looking for a fantasy system that deals with the hit point issue so that it becomes somewhat more realistic or realistic to describe without being overly complicated. True20 does have a system that kind of does this without using hit points, but I like what was described here a lot better. :D


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PostPosted: Sun Jan 06, 2008 8:10 pm 
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It does indeed sound good so far. Looking forward to reading about character creation.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 08, 2008 9:17 am 
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Interesting so far. I'll keep reading the blogs as they come up.

Any chance that you'll be running some demo games at GenCon next year?

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 Post subject: DnD combat
PostPosted: Tue Jan 08, 2008 11:23 am 
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dancross wrote:
For some fun contrast, Bryan Mitchell of Enworld submitted to me the potential complexity of actions in D20, especially in high level adventures:
Let's take a level 8 paladin about to charge and smite an enemy. You've cast divine sacrifice (complete divine, and have sacrificed 10 hp), have bless cast on you, and have used your divine might feat (complete warrior). You're also going to power attack with a two-handed weapon at -4. Adding up your attack roll would look something like this: +8 bab - 4 power attack + 4 strength + 1 weapon focus + 1 bless + 2 charging + 4 smite evil + 2 magical weapon = +18. Your damage like so= 2d6 base greatsword + 5d6 divine sacrifice + 6 1 1/2 str + 8 smite evil + 4 divine might + 2 magical weapon +8 power attack (x2 subtracted bonus) = 2d6+28 plus 5d6. And don't forget your AC drops by -2 for charging.


Oh so true. I've only started to recently DM but have been a player in multiple campaigns, many of them mid to high-level (18th). I can definitely vouch for the above example.

Hmmm. Maybe in my next campaign I'll switch to True20....

But getting back to the topic. Like nstr, I hope the reality is similar to what is described. One of the easiest systems I've played that makes sense both from the GM and player side is the "attack & parry" paradigm from Chaosium's Basic Role-Playing. Easy to explain to beginner players and anyone who's ever read/seen hand-to-hand combat. I think explaining "Defense Pool" shouldn't be too difficult to explain in a similar manner.

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 Post subject: Re: DnD combat
PostPosted: Tue Jan 08, 2008 8:35 pm 
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joela wrote:
One of the easiest systems I've played that makes sense both from the GM and player side is the "attack & parry" paradigm from Chaosium's Basic Role-Playing. Easy to explain to beginner players and anyone who's ever read/seen hand-to-hand combat. I think explaining "Defense Pool" shouldn't be too difficult to explain in a similar manner.


Chaosium, yes. I played quite a few sessions of "Stormbringer" in days past. Whether it was Chaosium or Palladium systems, it seemed natural for players to have choices of defense. I do think that the ERP Defense Pools are easy for new players, especially since they are precalculated on the character sheet. That active defenses (weaponry, evade, dodge, and deflect) refresh 100% after combat eliminates unnecessary bookkeeping too. The game does utilize "passive defenses", such as Toughness and Resilience, which refresh at a slower pace, but those mechanics are common. Playtesters said the system is intuitive, so that's a good sign.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Jan 09, 2008 12:22 am 
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fathead wrote:
Interesting so far. I'll keep reading the blogs as they come up.

Any chance that you'll be running some demo games at GenCon next year?


I'd like to. My wife will be probably giving birth to my second child in late July or early August, so I may have to ask my co-author Randy Petras to step in, but overall I'm not sure what's going on with convention stuff yet.

I'm sure it will be showcased by the right people at Gen Con ;-)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2008 5:46 pm 
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Hey Dancross,

I've been pondering the combat mechanics of ERP alot recently. I think the "layers" of defense will certainly make it easy for players and gamemasters to visualize and narrate dynamic battles. I was wondering however, if there were any critical hit style mechanics which ignore active defenses? Also how do sniper/ambushes work? Do targets lose their active defenses?

Dustin


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2008 9:08 pm 
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Dustin R wrote:
Hey Dancross,

I've been pondering the combat mechanics of ERP alot recently. I think the "layers" of defense will certainly make it easy for players and gamemasters to visualize and narrate dynamic battles. I was wondering however, if there were any critical hit style mechanics which ignore active defenses? Also how do sniper/ambushes work? Do targets lose their active defenses?

Dustin


What you say about the layers of defense, in relation to visualizing battles, is exactly why we put it together that way. In early playtest we introduced “called shots” of a sort, allowing attackers to bypass active defenses, with penalties to the roll. But outside of simultaneous attack and grappling rules, this proved quite unbalancing to the game. Blood thirsty gamers loved it…until their enemies exercised the option. Remember, defense hitpoint pools are derivative of Ability Die-Ranks, so allowing the bypassing of active defense diminishes the value and impact of advancement.

However, there are rules for simultaneous attacks (and avoidance thereof), as well as surprise (including ambush). Creatures who suffer simple surprise lose a full round of attacks, but can use any ADPs (active defense pools) in response to assault or ambush. Creatures who suffer total surprise lose all actions for the round, and cannot use any ADPs (until the next round). :twisted:


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2008 9:15 pm 
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So there will be little or no chance for a PC to get felled in one shot at the beginning of combat. I assume also that there are creatures who have such low active defenses that they can be taken out by a single blow.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 22, 2008 10:02 pm 
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Dustin R wrote:
So there will be little or no chance for a PC to get felled in one shot at the beginning of combat. I assume also that there are creatures who have such low active defenses that they can be taken out by a single blow.


Little chance, true, although if a character with little martial skill and no armor faces a master of the long sword, she won't last long. There are creatures that are easily dispatched in numbers, yes. The rules name those creatures "fodder". Such a simple monster might look like this (and I'm just making this up now):

Giant Rat
TY/CS: Vermin / 5 (+1 due to minor effect).
Threat Ranks: 1D4 bite, 0 missile attack, and 0 magic attacks.
Hitpoints: 4
Resilience: 2
Battle Phase: D6 = BP 4 (Fair Initiative).
Notes: Disease. If the rat penetrates through armor to toughness, then the PC must roll Resistance Ability versus 2D4 (moderate difficulty), or suffer the equivalent of a Curse Effect, subtracting -1 from all rolls until healed.


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PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2008 7:03 am 
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So if a PC was attacking the Giant Rat above would they need to inflict 4 threat [4 hitpoints] or 8 threat [4 hitpoints + 4 bite/active defense] to dispatch in a single hit?

I like the fact that a typical PC won't get mowed down the first round of combat. It also seems that having the various defenses and their narrative components in player hands gives more ownership/control to the player. A player should really "feel" every blow. To be honest though, I am a little concerned on the book-keeping aspect of combat. Are the defense pools small enough to use some sort of physical token?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Jan 23, 2008 7:23 am 
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Dustin R wrote:
So if a PC was attacking the Giant Rat above would they need to inflict 4 threat [4 hitpoints] or 8 threat [4 hitpoints + 4 bite/active defense] to dispatch in a single hit?


4 threat points would knock it out, 5 would kill it. For Full-Fledged NPCs, it depends on their abilities.

Quote:
To be honest though, I am a little concerned on the book-keeping aspect of combat. Are the defense pools small enough to use some sort of physical token?


Oh, it's nuthin'. The active defenses refresh after battle, so just jot down stuff as the combat goes on. You won't need tokens. The DPs do go up in number, some above 36 due to a large related ability tree, so using tokens could crowd your play space. Nobody in playtest ever complained about bookkeeping, so I took that as a good sign. ;-)


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 10:19 am 
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dancross wrote:
The active defenses refresh after battle...


Is there a definition of "after battle"?

For example: you are fighting a gaurd in a hallway. Then you hear (or see?) several more gaurds approaching.
If the new gaurds catch up to you before you finish off the first one, I assume this is the same battle.
But if you manage kill the first guard, then run around several corners before the others catch up to you, does this constitute a new battle?

How much time is needed between swords clashing do you need to refresh your parry/evade?
(This could make a huge difference in tactics)


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 1:37 pm 
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Banesfinger wrote:
Is there a definition of "after battle"?


Yes. The first, somewhat open to interpretation is, "Active
Defenses are fully refreshed and at 100% after officially
escaping or ending combat". So, in your example, if your hero has dispatched a guard, but more are quickly approaching, I'd say combat is not ended. If the "hero" runs, then he may escape combat.

There is also a precedent set for some optional combat choices, like "sacrificing" die-ranks* to pump Defenses (which I can explain fully in a different post). A character may reinstate the sacrificed Die-Ranks after combat ends, or after 10 minutes of rest, whichever happens first, which is similar in spirit to the more general rule.

Quote:
For example: you are fighting a guard in a hallway. Then you hear (or see?) several more gaurds approaching.
If the new gaurds catch up to you before you finish off the first one, I assume this is the same battle.


I agree, it would be the same battle.


Quote:
But if you manage kill the first guard, then run around several corners before the others catch up to you, does this constitute a new battle?


I'd say the hero did not have enough time to "cool down" after killing the first guard. However, if the adventurer had a few moments to revitalize himself before charging off around several corners, then it would be a new battle. The GM has some wiggle room here.

Quote:
How much time is needed between swords clashing do you need to refresh your parry/evade?
(This could make a huge difference in tactics)


Between swords clashing is a different story. You cannot refresh your parry or other active pools during a battle without A) sacrificing a die-rank higher than basic to pump skill into defense, or B) stepping out of combat for a round to "revitalize" (which again begs further explanation), or C) ending or escaping combat altogether (meaning no longer in immediate danger).


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 Post subject: Sacrifice and Revitalize
PostPosted: Fri Mar 28, 2008 1:44 pm 
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Here are the two combat options I mentioned in my last post:

Sacrifice: Pump any Active DP

A creature may, at any time during the round
and as a free action, temporarily “sacrifice” any
number of Melee or Martial Arts Specializations
or Masteries to bolster Weaponry Defense. A
character may also sacrifice a Die-Rank of Pugilism
Specialization to bolster Evade, but cannot do
both in the same round. Add the MRV (maximum-rank value) of the
sacrificed Specialization or Mastery Die-Ranks
to the associated Defense Pool. A character
cannot sacrifice basic Die-Ranks. Points added
in this manner may exceed the normal hit point
maximum for the ADP. A character may reinstate
the sacrificed Die-Ranks after combat ends, or after
10 minutes of rest, whichever happens first. Any
points exceeding the normal max of the DP vanish
after the battle.

However, do not adjust a Defense Pool downward
after reinstating the Die-Ranks after a battle.
Sacrificing ability ranks in this temporary manner
does not lower the maximum score of any Defense
Pool, so restorative magic always operates in the
same manner.

It is simply, in semantic terms, transference of
skilled energy. The character’s Potential-Harm is
thus lowered until the combat ends, and cannot be
brought back even with a Revitalize maneuver. Not
even a Restore Spell can “reinstate” sacrificed dice
in the same combat round (see Magic system).
For example Fred the Fierce “sacrifices” his Mastery
of D8 in Utility Knife and adds 8 temporary points
to the Weaponry Defense Pool. He adds 8 points
to Weaponry ADP, but cannot add a Utility Knife
Mastery Die-Rank roll to a Potential-Harm check
until the next combat.

Revitalize
A combatant may choose to forego an action
for that round to rest and “revitalize” his Active
DPs, regaining some strength and vitality. If the
character is engaged in hand-to-hand or melee
combat, he must perform a tactical withdrawal
before attempting the revitalize combat option. A
character revitalizes his Defense Pools by rolling the
dice associated with each Active DP and adds the
results to each corresponding hit point
total. If attacked during the round,
this action fails. A creature cannot
perform any other action (other than
free actions) in conjunction with
revitalizing. [I've removed the specific die rolls for this for now]


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 30, 2008 1:06 pm 
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My understanding of the combat system is that if your character gets attacked often and does not take either "Sacrfice" or "Revitalize" action, he will eventually run out of defense points and every attack after that will hit him until the end of combat. Is that correct?


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 30, 2008 10:12 pm 
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Zemora wrote:
My understanding of the combat system is that if your character gets attacked often and does not take either "Sacrfice" or "Revitalize" action, he will eventually run out of defense points and every attack after that will hit him until the end of combat. Is that correct?


Yes, that's correct. If a character runs out of all defense points, he's basically getting pummeled, but can still counter-attack. Sacrificing dice to pump defenses probably wouldn't be used until after a total loss of applicable defense, because using that option decreases Potential-Harm for the rest of the battle. Revitalize is a good option if your comrades can shield you from the fight for a round.


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 Post subject: Re: Designers Blog #1: Combat Resolution in the Eldritch Sys
PostPosted: Wed Dec 28, 2011 9:59 am 
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Has anyone fiddled around with the combat system?

I like it a lot but some things are lacking to me.

First off there are a few weapons that are just plain better to me. The bonus to damage paired with max split makes it very simple, especially vs. an unarmed simpler type of foe, to just muliply damage with max split and then take the weapon which gives you the best bang for the buck. I've tried to change things in the weapon list but I never get satisfied with it? Right now I'm thinking of some Warhammer 2 type system with base weapons doing some base damage and have no special perks (say +2 damage and max split 2) and then have advantages cover weapons that are better than this or has qualities.

This paired with some weapons which have a nice damage and max split combo along with a big ADP bonus when reaching mastery level (which is not that hard and can be achieved at level 2 I think?) make for some cheesy combinations which can unbalance the game a bit between different choices for characters.

I have also fiddled a bit with different moves or maneuvers in combat that you generally see players want to do. These include charging your foe, attack from behind, bull rushing and those kind of things to more specific stuff like Riposte or Stunt maneuvers (e.g. swinging in chandeliers). Sure these can be handled ad hoc as you go along but I like to have some consistency with these things so a charge is not handled differently every time it is done.

If someone has done anything like this I'd like to know.

Cog.


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